Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Boston 2014

 photo 10265619_10152044440351657_3671522546613750309_o.jpg Boston 2014 was obviously different than 2013 for me.  I had taken the time to train all winter long, keeping a good mix of running routes, hills and varied terrain. My goal was not only to run faster than last year, but also to run a smarter race, be able to better handle the Newton hills, and hopefully finish strong. 

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I approached this years race much less wide-eyed than last year, as the "Boston Mystique" had been somewhat tempered in my mind.  I had learned that, although many of the participants in the first wave are very gifted, fast runners - for the most part, people in the second and third waves of runners are quite normal in many respects, and I did in fact deserve to be there. Most of these runners, like me, had put in countless miles, and struggled with multiple attempts at qualifying, before finally reaching their goal to run Boston. Every runner has a story - many of which are people who have overcome incredible obstacles to run in the oldest, most historic marathon.

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We decided to make it a family trip to Boston this year, so that we could enjoy being together for the historic race, and see some of the sights of the city. We arrived and went to the convention center expo to pick up my race packet and check out all of the booths. I could see the excitement in the eyes of first-timers who, like myself last year, could hardly believe that they had truly made it to Boston!

 photo image59.jpeg We took the T subway Wonderland line to see Revere beach. 

 photo IMG_1964.jpg Later we had the best pizza in the north end at Regina's, with our good friend Donna.

 photo IMG_1806.jpg We walked the Freedom Trail together, to see and touch the historic buildings and places in the cradle of liberty, that are important parts of American history. I went into the used bookstore and talked to the lady I had met the year before. I told her that I had, in fact returned, and was excited to be back to Boston. She thanked me for stopping in and wished me well.

 photo IMG_2020.jpg We went to the New England Aquarium on the waterfront, and also saw the "Lemurs of Madagascar" at the IMAX theater.

 photo image89.jpeg We even made time for a chilly night game at Fenway Park!

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On Sunday we attended church at a local meetinghouse in the north end. I noticed a few other people in their Sunday best with running shoes on, who would probably also be running on Monday.  There was a brisk ocean breeze, but the forecast was for slightly warmer conditions on race day.  I hoped for very light winds and not too warm temperatures.

 photo boston-marathon-04212014-4.jpg We returned to the finish line on Boylston Street. As we approached ground zero for the tragic events of last year, my emotions began to return to the surface. We walked past the Old South Church, then through Copley Square to the historic Trinity Church. 

 photo IMG_1874.jpg Daffodils lined the steps and sidewalks, symbolizing resiliency, to help lift the spirits of all who passed by. I sat down to reflect on my Boston journey, and made a conscious effort to release all of the negative thoughts I had been carrying since last year. 

 photo IMG_1871.jpg Tears filled my eyes as I sat in the shadows of the beautiful cathedrals, allowing the healing moment to begin to cleanse my soul.  I took the time to delete my voice mailbox full of unheard messages, all from 4-15-13.  I did not even listen to them, I just let them go. It helped bring peace, knowing that I was not alone, that many others had returned to this sacred ground for the same, cathartic reasons. 

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We met with the large group of other Utah runners for a group finish line picture. It was a great opportunity to see some running friends, and to meet people I had only communicated with online.

That night, Landon and Josh gave me a calming priesthood blessing of comfort, that I might be able to get some rest, and then be able to do my best on race day. Sleep came quickly, and before I knew it my alarm was sounding to start the big day. I made my way to Tremont Street by the Boston Common, where the buses were all lined up. 

  photo image85.jpeg Security this year was much more obvious, as there were well-armed officers at every checkpoint. I sat by "Carlos" from Columbia on the ride to Hopkinton, as the excited din of marathon-speak filled the bus. I experienced feelings of deja vu as I approached the athletes' village, finding it hard to believe that this was my second time here! Again I noticed not only all of the police and security presence, but also all of the great volunteers. Once in the athletes' village, I had time to relax, lightly stretch, use a porta-potty, and graze on my pre-race food.  One difference this year, was that there were no runner clothing drop bags allowed for security reasons. All dropped warmup clothing would be donated to local charities. This year a fourth wave of runners was also added, allowing over 35,000 entrants. A moment of silence was observed for all of the victims of last year's bombings, after which there was a flyover of military aircraft. Even though I was surrounded by thousands of people, I felt as if there was probably no safer place to be at that time. As the morning progressed, the time came for second wave runners to begin walking to the starting corrals. This year I left with plenty of time so that I made it to my corral with a couple of minutes to spare. The energy and excitement were incredible, as the mass of runners gradually surged toward the starting line, and the crowds lining the Hopkinton streets cheered in celebration, and victory over last year's tragedy.

 photo 13286403.jpg With this being my second Boston Marathon, I knew physically what to expect from the race course. I had meticulously planned in my mind the best pace for each downhill, flat and uphill mile, that would still allow me to run strong through the finish. I was still emotionally unprepared for the huge turnout of people lining the streets, estimated at over one million spectators, and their impact on the runners' spirit. The palpable sense of excitement and energy along the entire course lifted my soul and strengthened my spirit, helping to heal the emotional scars and carry me past each mile marker. I watched my pace to make sure that I did not go too fast, as the miles ticked away. The weather was beginning to get warmer, but I stayed well hydrated, walking through many of the aid stations, and maintained my caloric intake. Before long the Newton hills began, and amazingly, unlike last year, I had the strength to run them all! My Winter training miles were obviously paying dividends at just the right time. Approaching mile 26 my legs were tired, but I still maintained a good pace. 

 photo IMG_1925.jpg My spirit soared when I saw Keri, Josh and Landon cheering on the sideline, as I made the right turn from Commonwealth onto Hereford. As I turned left onto Boylston, the finish line came into view, and a myriad of feelings filled my heart as I could not believe that I had made it the entire distance again. I crossed the finish line about 25 minutes faster than last year, and suddenly felt all of the emotions of the past year surface in my heart. Tears filled my eyes as a volunteer placed the finishers medal around my neck, and the reality of the moment began to sink in.

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Just then, the announcer told us that 38 year-old American runner Meb Keflezighi had won the marathon that morning! The first US male runner to win since 1983, he ran a strategically impeccable race, crossing the finish line with a PR and a six-second negative split. What a way to celebrate Patriot's Day in Boston! I thought of what an appropriate coincidence it was that last year, my parents had given me a copy of Meb's book, "Run to Overcome." Hall of Fame Runner's World editor Amby Burfoot described it as "...the best day in running history." - and I felt so blessed to be a small part of it.

 photo boston-marathon-2014.jpg Volunteers helped me through the recovery area, after which I made my way back to meet up with Keri and the boys. This was no small feat, on wobbly race-spent legs. Once out of the finishers' recovery areas, security made it very difficult to get near the various spectator locations. 

 photo IMG_1908.jpg About a half hour later I found my family, and we hugged in celebration of the shared magical day. Total strangers on the street also approached me with congratulations and hugs. Patriots Day has deep meaning for the people of New England, and today was even more significant. 

 photo IMG_1915.jpg Locals seemed to have a sincere sense of gratitude for all of the runners, and the Boston Marathon event, for helping them "take back their city" and allow the human spirit to triumph over evil. The motto, "We All Run as One" was seen all over the city, building the atmosphere, feeling and spirit of unity, recovery, resilience and strength - not only for runners, but also for the people of Boston, and the entire country.

 photo IMG_1801.jpg On the subway ride back to our host home that afternoon, an 8 year old boy sitting next to me asked, "Did you run the marathon?" to which I replied, "Yes - did you see it?" He then said, "No, I don't like marathons.." His mom then explained, that his good friend, Martin Richard passed away at last year's marathon, which is why he is afraid of marathons now. I told him that I was sorry he lost his friend, and that I was glad that I could return and run again this year. As I contemplated this improbable chance encounter, I gained a greater understanding of the lasting impact of the events of 4-15-13. Some wounds from that day are obviously deeper than others, and will take many years to heal.

The above video summarizes the feelings of myself and many other runners returning to run Boston 2014, after the tragic events of 2013. *You can see a snippet of me in the group picture scene at the 18:07 mark - I am just left of center.

Writing this 'blog posting has caused me to reflect back over the events of Boston 2013 and 2014, and my life events which have brought me this far. Although the horrific tragedy of 4-15-13 caused great pain, confusion, anger, grief and fear, I have learned many life lessons as a result of this journey, and much good has come in the wake of recovery. 

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Some people have asked me, "did running in Boston 2014 help bring you closure?" For me, returning to run Boston has been more about healing.  Closure sounds so final - but the events of that day will never be forgotten, and will always be a part of me. I have found that the best way through it is to learn what I can from it, hopefully become a better person, and help others along the way.